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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  March 12, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. he will turn to a conversation .ith brian jay jones henson was a much more driven creationsis sunny might suggest. we are glad you joined us. those conversations coming up right now. ♪
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. -- >> we hear a great deal about weapons of mass destruction. it seems we have come close to accidentally detonating one. award-winning journalist eric schlosser has pulled back the curtain on what has been capped hidden.
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-- kept hidden. good to have you on this program. thanks for the research that went into making this possible. referenced this before you went on camera. i grew up in a place called bunker hill. my dad served in the air force for 37 years. in 1964,d i know that the year i was born, there was a major accident in indiana. >> a be 58, was taxiing, and the plane in front of it hit it with exhaust. the runway was icy. the bomber caught on fire. two of the three crewmen got out safely. one was killed, but there were five hydrogen bombs on the plane. two of them were unharmed. one was scorched. one caught on fire, and one melted completely into the runway. these were weapons that didn't devices.rate safety
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in this case they didn't detonate, but it could have been a real problem. it was just very fortunate none of these weapons detonated. >> tavis: the stuff you learn about your own life. >> that could have detonated. common are these stories we don't hear about? >> a lot more common than we are led to believe. the book is based on interviews and lots of documents. theng the cold war government didn't want people to question nuclear weapons or be concerned about them. their standard line was there was never a chance of these detonating. whenever there was an accident they would neither confirm nor deny a nuclear weapon was is weed. what concerns me invented this technology.
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i think we build the safest nuclear weapons of any country, and if we have this many problems with our weapons, it really makes you wonder about countries like pakistan, india, russia, and how they are managing their arsenals. tavis: that raises some questions. given all the accidents and near accidents you brought to our we in the why are business of even making nuclear weapons? i will come later to train to check others for having the same technology we have, particularly some we helped develop. let's start with the first. why are we in the business of making nuclear weapons? >> at the good question. we're not making new nuclear weapons, but we have thousands of them. they are holdovers from the cold war. one reason i wrote the book is to remind people these are out there. at the heart of the book is the story of a weapons accident in damascus, arkansas, or we almost
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had a major war head explode, and i am trying to remind people of the risk of the complexity of these things. explain why we still have them. we don't have a major enemy like the soviet union anymore, and we need to think about this issue, how many do we need, how should they be deployed, why do we have them, where are they aimed at, and these are discussed in terms of iran, but not in terms of the united states. tavis: how fast is our supply? >> it's huge. at the peak of the cold war we had 32,000. now we have closer to 5000. about 1800 are ready to be used at a moments notice. just one of these weapons is powerful and distracted beyond our imagination. if one is that powerful,
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why do we need to blow the world up 100 million times? >> i guess because russia has so many, and there is still this mentality from the nuclear arms race and the cold war that we can't let someone else have more than we have, whereas 300 nuclear weapons would be enough to completely annihilate any country there is onerous -- on earth. >> tell me about this damascus incident. >> damascus, arkansas, is a small town in the ozarks. one day they were doing routine maintenance in a missile silo. one of the workmen on a steel platform dropped the socket off his ranch. just a routine accident. the socket fell in between the work platform and the missile, fell about 50 feet, bounced, hit the missile, and pierced a hole in the metal skin of the missile, and suddenly, incredibly explosive dangerous rocket fuel was filling the silo, and the air force had no idea what to do. it shows, to challenge it is to
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manage these complex systems. give me some sense of how in a worst-case scenario how accident haveat been had it not been contained at the last minute? >> it would have incinerated the state of arkansas. deadlyd have said radioactive fallout up the east coast. we tested one weapon in 1950 four, to give you a sense of the power of one hydrogen bomb, this was a powerful bomb. if you had dropped that bomb on washington, d.c., it would have killed everyone in washington, everyone in philadelphia, everyone in baltimore who couldn't find shelter in a followed shelter, and with -- it would have killed everyone -- half the people in new york city. this is just one powerful bomb. we have 32,000 of them. this is an incredible amount of explosive force, very
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complicated machines being run by fallible human beings. i want to say one of the other major things in the book is the incredible heroism of ordinary servicemen during the cold war, any of whom risked their lives and in this case lost their lives trying to prevent nuclear catastrophes. i don't know what your father's duties were, but we haven't really heard about the heroism of a lot of these cold war veterans in the same way we now know about vietnam war veterans and we honor our second world war veterans. what's your sense of that level of heroism? are there numbers we can attach? of trying to get a ballpark what the sacrifice has been by these individuals. the greatest sacrifice would be loss of life. certainly dozens of members of aircrews and first responders but in lookings, at the people in this book, it's not a simplistic warmongering
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people with nuclear weapons. the system is so complicated, and the implications of going to war were so unbelievable the daily stress of these jobs involving nuclear weapons was enormous. if you had top security clearance to be working on these nuclear weapons, you couldn't talk to family about it. you couldn't talk to friends outside of the military about it, yet lots of able live with this knowledge that there was -- lots of people live with the knowledge that there was a thin margin between peacetime and total annihilation. we are so confident that we got out of the cold war without a major city being destroyed by a weapon, and my concern is the new generation of young people has no knowledge of these weapons, the risk increases. the more weapons there are, the more countries have them, the greater chance of city is going to be destroyed. the haven't seen anything like that since the second world war.
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tavis: can you give me any consolation about the fact that policies foretter how to store, how to care for the bombs we do have? this whole book is about near accidents. are we better about controlling the arsenal we do have? >> our weapons and bombs are safer than they were 30 years ago. is af my concern though lot of the weapons they are attached to, the bombers, the missiles are ancient. some of them are 30, 40, 50 years old. some of the infrastructure is aging. we continue to have problems. in 2010 we lost communications with 50 of our land-based and continental ballistic missiles for an hour. centers couldtrol not communicate with their missiles. this was traced back to a single computer chip that failed in the
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processor, but there was some concern that has been brought threats year about the of someone hacking into our nuclear control system, and you don't want a hacker being able to disable our missiles or even launching one. the odds are not great, but the fact that it is conceivable means we have to invest in these systems, pay attention to them, and if we're going to have nuclear weapons, make sure the people managing them are top rate. we have two of our three were citedhis year for safety violations. things are better than during the cold war. the fact that we have fewer weapons makes it easier to manage them. we have 32,000, but you have got to be constantly vigilant, and there is no room for one serious mistake, because one of these going off would be a catastrophe. believe that hackers
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these days and certainly into the future are capable of doing just about anything, and i'm not so convinced at some point down the road hackers couldn't figure it out. they seem to figure out everything else. i think that makes the argument for why we don't need to have them. if you don't have them they are not going to be hacked. >> if you had said five years ago a low level software guy at the nsa would get the most top secret of the most top secret agency, you would have said -- tavis: stop. you are making my point. all jokes aside, i want to come back to this in case someone tuned into this conversation late. you have done us a great by putting this intelligence out there. what do we do with it at the moment? >> the first up is to become aware. the second step is to do something about it.
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there are different organizations working on nuclear weapons issues. what is called global zero. what is the international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons. just by getting aware and active in letting our politicians know that we care about this issue has an impact. if the elected officials don't hear anything from their constituents, they don't do anything on the issue. we have a president i think really understands this, is really trying to do the right thing, and need some backup. tavis: his name is eric schlosser. his new book is called "command ."d control" thank you for your work, and thanks for coming on the program. >> thanks for having me. tavis: i appreciate it. tim hanson, the creator of kermit the frog, miss piggy, and so many of the muppets is a beloved american icon, but he complexity.e
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that comes forward in a new biography. let's take a look at henson describing how he actually created kermit the frog. >> he's one of the simplest puppet because inside his head there is nothing but my hand. it's just a little cloth pattern. it was originally with a couple of ping-pong balls. they are half spheres. it's very simple. as far as puppets go they get a lot more complicated. he is a glorified sock puppet. tavis: you were saying to me during the clip that for you henson was what you referred to as creatively restless. >> creatively restless. i guy throughout his entire life was always coming up with new ideas. even when he has the most famous
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show in the world, he is always coming up with new ideas for movies or things that never make it off the page. he is a creatively restless guy. tavis: he was born what? >> from an early age his grandmother inspired him to build and paint and so, so jim newhart to do these things from an early age. there -- so jim went out to do these things from an early age. tavis: in terms of talking about the way he redesigned these puppets, they were at the time many still made of wood. i will let you tell more about the way he created. when you see kermit's face move, he had a hand not just in the creative exploration of how the characters came to life, in the
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actual design of these characters. >> his real genius, he figured to things out. first, if you are on television, the puppet needs to be expressive. you can't have a wooden face with ain't done it. you have to have eyes that move. jim figured out -- a wooden face . eyes thatto have move. he realized the for sides of the screen were your puppet theater. he figured out you could film in real time. the other thing he figured out is if that is what matters you need to know what the camera is seeing at all times. we put a monitor on the floor so we can always watch it in real time. they still perform this way on sesame street. if you are watching the performers they are never looking at the puppet. they are always looking down at
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the monitor. it makes perfect sense, but no one thought of that before. tavis: i was flipping channels and came across the movie ted with the talking -- >> teddy bear. tavis: the movie was a huge hit obviously in part because ted was so crass. in may me think about jim henson he has become iconic the world over for muppets that were funny but also had something to say. a world wheren crass cells, but that's not the route he decided to go. sells, but that's not the route he decided to go. >> he had sweet spot between the .haos of looney tunes cartoons there was never anything mean-spirited about the muppets. they were funny.
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they were hitting each other, and at the end of the day they would come together as a family. that's the way the muppet performers were around jim. tavis: give me some sense about how did you come up with all these ideas. >> jim was the ultimate collaborator. he was always willing to give the performers the room and time they needed to find the character. a lot of times it began with a scrap of an idea, a drawing. ernie and bert were drawn as contrast. oz put these puppets on after they were built. the designer could capture the essence of a drawing and figure out what worked and what did not, so they put these puppets on and would play with them in front of a mirror and figure out who would do what. jim was 30. friend was bert. frank was uptight. jim was more laid back. then you take a character like miss piggy, that they billed as
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a background character in one of the two pilots they had done the didn't catch fire. and the first season of the muppet show that character is passed back and forth between two different performers. her voice isn't really set. frank oz had her one day. there was a stage direction that called for her to slap kermit. frank decided to turn that into a karate chop. you immediately knew you had to see it again. the place went crazy. they knew that was the character. on the ericsson who injured -- who designed her describe her as a truck driver who think she is a fashion designer. one thing is this is so uncommon in the world we live in today. if the pilot doesn't catch fire, someone gets canned. now, this thing didn't catch fire.
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three and it took him tries to get the muppet show on tv. he had been on variety shows throughout the states and the tonight show, that he knew didn't work. finally after sesame street he managed to convince michael eisner at abc to fund the pilot. the first pilot doesn't really do anything. showecond is called muppet : sex and violence. that didn't catch fire either. most people would say, it's not going to work. jim knew it was going to work. finally he found someone that invested in jim, and said i will give you 120,000 dollars per episode, which was phenomenal. jim, knowing something would work and dogging the idea. tavis: what did the success of the muppet show when it was on say about our culture?
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what is it henson understood? why did he think the characters would play in the culture? >> there is a timelessness. the muppet show is fascinating. it's got elton john in his crazy feathered era and alice cooper and steve martin. it personifies the 70's, yet it has the timeless feel because jim placed it in that vaudeville theater. he finally figured out where it took lace. that gave us timelessness to figure out the muppets have always been here. it felt like they were always there from the beginning. tavis: what's the story of how kermit turned out to be a frog. why is kermit the frog? >> kermit came out in 1955. jim was always building muppets
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out of found objects. his mother had a coat that was milky blue. he really did make the puppet's eyes out of ping-pong balls cut in half. it's really hard to watch that character now and not think of a fraud. the face is the shape. he was an abstract character. all of the characters were vague and abstract. jim really like that, but as the 60's progressed, he put a collar on him, and when you see the footage, it's black-and-white. collar around its neck. there is the frog right there. that's probably one of the moments they knew that was it. jim said it was a little sad to lose that abstraction. he really like that. you are really giving the audience of the tooled onto.
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-- something to hold onto. he liked the abstract. is an answer to that question, but talk to me about sesame street and beyond, what you think his values for the culture has been and will be? jim really wanted television to matter, and jim wanted his projects to matter. that's one of the values jim brought to his work that really informed his work. sesame street was about making learning fun. --hing like fragile rock something like fragile rock was about three different species living harmoniously whether they knew it or not. muppet babies was using the imagination to solve problems multiple ways. jim wanted it to mean something. he told his fragile rock team, i want to come up with a show that
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will stop war. it had to mean something to him. that's one of those things that makes it still resonate. they had to be about something. tavis: puppetry and animation are two different things. does this tell us anything about what henson might say about the state of puppetry today? >> it's hard to tell. at the time of his death, he was trying to sell the company to the walt disney company and placed them in the hands of the disney company. one of the conditions of the agreement was he also wanted his own independent company. muppetsready to let the be on their own and take his own production company and go do something we have any men thought about now, so it's hard to say what he would have done with puppetry later. it's hard to say where he would have gone with technology. someone once asked me would jim have used cgi. the question is not would he use
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it. the question is what would he have done with it. he had a way to see things differently. you would see him doing something fun. you cannot tell where he is going to go. tavis: that's because he is ahead of the rest of us. henson: is called "jim the biography." henson was not so simple. by brian jay jones. thanks for the work. good to have you on the program. thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with "reefer .adness" -- with rick najera
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that's next time. we will see you then. ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> be more. pbtraveling across the country,
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